Monday 21 January 2013

Goals and Storytelling

Let's talk about goals in storytelling games. Not really the far-reaching "save the princess" or "kill the evil dude" kind of goals, but the local and moment-to-moment goals that face a player throughout the experience. I have sort of touched upon this in the scene-approach to high level story telling story design post, but want to discuss it a bit further. I think this is another major reason why there still a need for either violence or puzzles to drive the story forward. The reason being that the player does not know what they should be doing otherwise.

In a non-interactive story the characters can behave in certain way because it works for the narrative. They think about the things that are relevant to the story being told, and perform actions that have interesting outcomes. In an interactive work, it just does not work like this. In order to control outcomes, the player would basically  have to know the future of any action, something that is neither possible or desirable. Thus, the game will have to guide the player into making the actions that the story requires in order to give an engaging output. This is where violence and puzzles come into play.

Games based around violence teach player the following: You need to kill anything in sight and when you run out of things to slaughter you need to progress until you find more stuff to fight. Once the player accepts this the problem with having is non-issue and the role of a designer is to weave a story into this mode of progression.

Puzzles have a different set up. Here the whole idea is to constantly bring up riddles for the player to solve, and then create a story out of that. What gives the player goals and directions are the requirements of the currently encountered and unsolved puzzles.

A more abstract and direct version of this is simply to have a certain goal artifact and then evolve the entire game about retrieving this. Portal, Braid, World of Goo, etc are all examples of this approach.

Puzzles and combat are the most popular ways of settings up goals, but others exist as well.

Most platform games, like Super Mario, just have the player walking in a single direction. While these games tend not have much story content, there are more experimental games that do. Passage, One Chance and Everyday the Same Dream use this approach quite directly and are sort of very simplified platformers. I think Dear Esther and Journey can also be said to use this kind of approach, as the player does not really have any other goals than moving in a certain direction.

Another approach is to not give the player any explicit goals at all, but let them just interact until something interesting happens. There are not really any longer games that uses this method to implement player progression. The Path and some of Vector Park's games do it to a certain extent, but then only for a single specific scene. Adventure games use in limited sequences, like when being thrown into a new location and forced to explore, but never for any longer stretches. The problem with this approach is that the player cannot really make any plans, which brings down the sense of agency and engagement quite a bit. This makes this only work for short bursts, often when a sense of disorientation is appropriate.

Finally, I have to mention the on-rails method, which is essentially what Walking Dead and Heavy Rain do. It is sort of similar to the "walk this way" approach of platformers, but just removes the required interaction for forward movement. These games drags you along whether you want it to or not, only letting you interact in very small and specific situations. An interesting aspect is that the "interact until something happens"-approach can work quite nicely here, partly because there are often relatively massive amounts of exposition before each interactive moment.  This combined with a closed of scene makes it possible to set up a goal using purely plot means.

This pretty much sums up how any storytelling games goes about creating low-level goals.

When starting out the new Super Secret Project I was very much into "interact until something happens"-approach, but it did not really work. The lack of gaminess did not make the player more into the story, but created frustration  and made them spend most mental energy pondering "what the hell am I supposed to do?". Our current approach is instead to use a combination of puzzles and the "walk this way"-approach.

Puzzles tend to always give certain feel to the environments; machines to boot up, broken bridges to cross and that sort of thing. This limits the range of goals quite a bit and is often quite evident in games. For instance, in Amnesia: The Dark Descent there is always the need to open some form of door. The challenge here is to be creative of course, but it is a very hard problem. To make puzzles out of various situations is one of the biggest challenges we face.

I think it is also very important to recognize that a big part of puzzles is to provide goals. Starting with Amnesia, we stopped seeing puzzles as challenges and instead view them like interesting activities. Focus is put on making them engaging and fitting to the narrative, instead of (as was the case the before) making them challenging. One cannot remove the challenge entirely though, because then a certain immersive quality of the puzzle is lost. There needs to still be a certain amount of "revelation" taking place in order to feel as if you are really making a connection with the game's world.

The "walk this way"-approach is very interesting as it gives much more freedom in the kind of environments that can be used. Now you can place the game in just a about any situation without any need to figure out ways to use it gameplay wise. The main issue is that you need to make your environments very linear. For the approach to work the goal must always be very clear, else it turns into a puzzle. In order to keep players engaged, it is also important that there is reason for continue going in a certain direction. This can either be the promise of some reward when getting there, or a steady flow of interesting things happening along the way.

I am unsure how long a game can be and what kind of stories can be sustained by only using the "walk this way"-approach. All the current ones (that I know of) are quite short. Interestingly, the more complex and direct the story (like One Chance and  ImmorTall) the shorter, and the more abstract and vague (Dear Esther and Journey) the longer. This might just be by accident, but might also be  a sign of some kind of limit to the approach. Worth nothing is that compared to other approaching, there is little inherent engagement in this one.  Simply moving forward simply stop being interesting after a while and something else is needed.

I think the question of various ways to set up goals is a  really important issue but I do not see it addressed very often, or really at all. For some reason any design articles I come across are based on a type of design and then just take that as dogma. Perhaps I am just missing all the nice papers/articles out there?

Also interested in hearing if I missed out on any ways to create the low-level goals in a storytelling game!


  1. When we speak about the story, I think Frictional Games themselves did a very good job of intellectual story telling on high level. Like the european history story of prussia in Amnesia which has paralleles to our modern politics and about the "evil" in human. Also like Penumbra, I like the plausibility in story and locations, for example they choose a real existing place greenland, real existing mining locations and a story with historical, religious and collectivity connected to the search of your father. And also the puzzles are great in this games, particularly in Penumbra Overture. An other game which has great puzzles are the Silent Hill series, which has VERY challenging puzzles on high level. You really need a big general knowledge to solve them. A further game is "Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine" a very good old 3rd person adventure with many locations filled with interesting stuff of story and interactive puzzles.

    The puzzles are a main feature to make games immersing and that you think about you and the environment. As we can see, Dear Esther was an interesting game without all that, it was more like a picture book story. But the game shoule be something "special" and this is why it is an interesting game for in between times, but it is not a game what I would call innovative or immersing. But perhaps that never was the goal of that game, it just wanted to tell a story and show beautyful locations!

    When I talk about high level games, I mean that you can't do without puzzles. Puzzles are the basic building block of a game to be immersed and to occupy with the game. Puzzles should be so physical thoughtful that you never think "it is a game". The problem is when a game feels like a game and not like a serious experience. This is why most games failed in gameplay when you get hints and tutorials, rewards and "skill points" etc. That are typical "game elements" and not really good for an immersing serious experience. I see, how most of RPG games are going the wrong way in that topic. Developers think they have to add more action and cinematic effects to impress most of people in casual market. And so they will make a superhero action game with fun gameplay, in what challenging puzzles or intellectual story would be a totally no-go because that only would demand the player and slow down the gameplay. Most developers think slow decent games are no longer according to time. That is the problem when games only will be made for "big money" instead of use high level gameplay ideology.

    But there's an RPG understanding story telling, interaction and well made gameplay mechanics and this game is "Gothic".
    It's really rare to find an other game with such rough atmosphere and an impact feeling.

    Such games are the masterpieces in most gameplay ideologies.

    It's not the success what said anything about the quality. Most good games are not made for big mass casual market. Instead they are made for a special niche of people who liked to play decent well made games who understand the true meanings of what games really wants to tell us.

    I hope, Thomas, you will keep your good work on.
    Your next game should be not much different from what we know from your company.

    And what I also want to say is that I have to praise you that your games doesn't have HUD or other similar disturbing elements. To have no HUD is by far more immersing because the game doesn't looks like a game. You have to concentrate on the game itself and not watch of heads-up-display!!!

    Thanks for reading Thomas.

  2. I'm always excited when I see a new article from the Frictional Games blog show up on my feed!

    You make very interesting points about puzzles and storytelling. You guys are probably one of the best video game companies out there, your passion is really clear.

  3. I think an important perspective on storytelling games is often overlooked entirely and often only achieved (partly) by accident: giving the player the opportunity to create their own stories.

    In my experience the most immersive games have been those where you are cast into an engaging and fleshed-out world that seems alive and then provided with the means to create your own stories in that world. Those are usually the games that have the biggest cult following and/or stay active the longest. Take Stalker, Minecraft, WoW and to some extend even regular well-executed multiplayer games. What all these games have in common is that chances are good that everyone who plays them will have a slightly different story to tell their friends who also played the game.

    I think that while traditional movie-style storytelling (telling a predetermined story and moving the character you're supposed to empathize with along a predetermined path) can still have a place in games, we need to recognize more that what makes games different from movies is the possibility of interaction.

    A nice quote that encapsulates my point is "Five seconds of quake are more meaningful than the entirety of Myst".

    Chris Hecker has a very good talk that touches on this, IIRC it's this one:,_Games,_and_Game_Design_%28feat._SpyParty%29

  4. Indeed, it's always a pleasure to read Thomas' articles :).

    Regarding the platform games a-la-Mario brothers: Games like Star Guard (, video: make use of blank screen space to convey the script which is conveyed to the player at his own pace (he is free to either pause a bit and read it or totally ignore it and get on with the game). I think that this is a rather elegant and brilliant solution.

    Now, as for "things" like dear Esther... see, I can't even call that a game. A better idea would be to do a Myst-like experiment, click on one location to be transported with on-rails movement (back then they did it because they couldn't render the inbetween scenes so they used video I guess) and have the guy speak his monologue. It gave me so much freedom that I kept walking backwards or trying to swim, only to be disappointed. The lack of any specific goal just added to the frustration. They could have simply called it "interractive story" and let it be judged by film critics or whatever. In summation, I think that this "thing" is really a step in the wrong direction for games. Now, I know that the same guys are developing "Amnesia: a game for pigs" - I hope they do better...

    Now, I'm trying to rack my brains to remember any games that had interesting storytelling: There's the masterful Another World by Eric Chahi back in 90-91. This conveyed most of the backstory in the very nicely directed introduction, and in game most of the story is conveyed by the striking backgrounds and scenes. Also, a few incidental animations at points help. This game is also really interesting because of the pace changes - some parts give you time to think and plan what you have to do (or pause and look at the amazing scenes), while others are really frantic (chase scenes or shoot'em'up scenes).

    Which brings me to a suggestion to Thomas' post: Why choose only one way to convey the story and stick with it the whole game instead of applying serveral in different parts? I'd think that this could help (and I indeed remember something similar happening to Amnesia and its ARG; some parts included chase scenes and were really heart pounding!)

    I suppose I could drag this post on and on and mention other games like Prince of Persia, but I think I'm becoming too boring so I'll stop here!

  5. Besides puzzles and violence, there is the ever-popular "leveling up" mechanic. You know, the player trades in his 2-8 damage redhead dagger for a 3-10 damage blonde rapier.

    Worthwhile topic, Thomas. Last night I was playing 10000000. It's a tile matching game with RPG dressing. Talk about moment-to-moment! That is why I played it for a few hours in one sitting. It stimulated me in a nonstop way. Will I remember the game as a watershed moment of a gaming experience? Haha.

    Moment-to-moment is present in Amnesia during chase sequences. During the hiding sequences! I do not think the puzzles, and character-buffing (level up), are moment-to-moment. They should be called more of an intermediate goal.

    It makes you think: do we have license to choose the duration and intensity of our goals? I prefer to call them "imperatives" but the idea is the same, it's something you just have to do. So, you want to align these imperatives with the game environment and theme, and also with what the player wants to do.

    For example, in a shoot-em-up, the game has a theme of violence and testosterone-fury that is carried by the many episodes of trigger-fueled moment-to-moment chaos. In a dungeon exploration game, the theme is carried by the "what will I find in this next room?" tension. In the first, the imperative is, "survive the gunfight or emerge victorious" and the second is "get the key without dying so I can explore this blasted level and survive." It would make no sense to swap the short/intermediate imperatives between the two.

    A game could be nothing more than one imperative. Design a game that is base on being chased on an island, and to win you find the boat near the shore. Strong imperative, but what is maximal duration? Could it be an effective storytelling level imperative? Or would most players lost interest quickly?

    Thus, it seems your blight is to find the right mix. All imperatives must be thematically consonant. They must tie all the moments together; but not overshadow the more meaningful intermediate and long-term (storytelling) imperatives.

    In the coming days, I'll think of any other short or intermediate term mechanics that make sense in a toolkit like this.

    BTW, on the subject of open-world games, did you have any thoughts on Miasmata? I quite enjoyed it, for what it was. With a few tweaks, it could be an outstanding game.

    1. "Besides puzzles and violence, there is the ever-popular "leveling up" mechanic. You know, the player trades in his 2-8 damage redhead dagger for a 3-10 damage blonde rapier."

      Ah yeah you are correct. Forgot mentioning that. RPGs use that a lot to tell an interactive story. It is not really something we are pursuing now so it slipped my mind.

      "BTW, on the subject of open-world games, did you have any thoughts on Miasmata?"
      Not played it. I just thought it was a classical survival game so I was not that keen on trying it. Perhaps I should :)

  6. "It is not really something we are pursuing now . . ."

    I would have been surprised if it was.

    Miasmata did some things worth noting, for example, the exploration aspect. I was content exploring, being lost in new wildernesses, and hiding from the Creature. You may find the game dull, but it brought to mind several characteristics of design that you like to discuss. It might have value as a "case study" even if it doesn't particularly move you.

  7. Miasmata is an interesting find about open world adventures that sport no shooting. Something that the frictional new super secret projects is aiming for, since it appears to be outdoor and outside.
    I watched videos only, so I can't tell much about the technology - how it performs on slower hardware. It seems it uses forward renderer, thoght.
    Thomas, have you ever consider to make a D3D port of your engine, XBox 360 ? What do you think about Valve-s claim that OpenGL is faster than DirectX ?
    Actually, that blog entry is for entirely different subject, so you can ignore my questions.

    1. Regarding port:
      Yes we have. And we have had on the schedule to port the engine to D3D, but been constantly postponing it :) I have no idea what is faster because I have very little knowledge of D3D.

    2. Thanks for answering.
      Well, I did the opposite lately to my stuff. Ported my D3D9 deferred engine to a OGL 2.1.deferred engine. To my surprise, porting went very smoothly despite the fact the initial architecture was never built with porting in mind. D3D types all over, D3DX calls, etc.I find that porting shader code is easier than port. Because matrices are linear in memory I feed them directly to OpenGL with flipped z. On some hardware - GeForce GT 620 under Windows 8/64bit the OpenGL version runs 3 times faster than D3D with equal scenes. In OpenGL my G-buffer is thinner as I use hardware depth buffer and reconstruct world position from depth.
      John Carmack once said something similar about very easy porting his id tech engine to XBox360. He meant that most of the code was actually renderer independant,

    3. Miasmata is a very good game to bring up, as it works very well despite having no hand holding, no puzzles, no fighting and an extremely open environment. Yet it is a game that is constantly challenging you and forcing you to think, think, think. It is, probably not by coincidence, one of the most engaging games I have played in recent years.

  8. When you have little knowledge about D3D, I think you should stay in OpenGL. Ans also I think OpenGL looks better than D3D. Instead of porting the engine (which will mean a risk of new bugs and/or incompatibilities etc.) I would recommend to improve OpenGL engine and update it to OpenGL4.2 instead of 2.1.
    OpenGL4.2 looks very awesome!

    OpenGL also works better with Anti-Aliasing, because D3D doesn't support that with deferred shading.

    So, don't change to D3D, it is always bad to port an engine, when it's not thoroughly made for D3D.

    There also ware games using D3D11 and looks very crappy because they were ported (from console engine). So, most D3D9 games looks better than a ported D3D11 game. Also the textures are the most important thing to improve graphics. Not only high res, I also mean that they soesn't looks like a computer generated plastic surface. Textures shoud looks like real objects with many details and structures. This will improve the graphics more than an engine update.

    I would work longer to realize better particle effects like water drops or dust in a sticky atmosphere with volumetric fog etc. I think that would be better in OpenGL version 4.

    1. Well, I'm not start a flame, but OpenGL do not look better than D3D and vise versa. It's models, textures, and shaders that access the same underlying hardware.
      Also, choosing to use OpenGL 4.2 isn't a wise decision. Lots of users still use relatively old hardware, integrated graphics etc. The qestions is, what could be more beneficial - to ship a game with slightly nicer visuals to X users, or slightly outdated visuals that run on X * 1000 users hardware.

    2. dont listen to this guy. make it dx11 instead of that shitty opengl for us pc gamers. D3D is an industry standard and has less problems.

    3. Here's the thing. They sell there games on Macs and linux. So taking the open gl redering part out of the engien is not a good idea. Ading d3d might be a good idea but updating the opengl rendering should be a higher priority.

  9. Thomas,

    This might sound a little naive, but have you thought about using the story to set goals and not puzzles? I know you want to exploit the players natural urge to explore, and you want to help the player have an immersive experience, but the reason why it might not be working out the way you want it to is because they feel they have nothing to find. If your just going around having them interact until something happens did you think of using that to set a goal? When I think of what your talking about now in this post versus what you were talking about last post, what your trying to get to happen is just to get the player more engaged, correct? If your game happens to be using characters or NPCs it might help to use that to draw the player in and make him feel that he needs to do something. You could somehow use the story content to assist getting the player curious or perhaps determined, make them feel that they have something they have to do. You might be able to balance and use the open feel with the player setting out to achieve/find his/her goal. Also, if you don't mind me asking, what kind of play testers are you using for your game currently?

    -Jesse P

    1. I take it you mean "plot" when you say "story", as for me story has much wider meaning and encompasses, characters, settings, plot, etc.

      In any case, this is something I will bring up in another post, but I touched upon it a bit in this and the previous post. It is that plot is really important in order to have games that do not rely on mechanics, puzzles, etc. Like I said in the summary of the scene-approach, it is vital that the player comes into the scene having gotten enough story exposition to have feel for what they should be doing. The must be a sort of casual relationship with the current state of the plot and the possibilities of the scene the player is currently in so that one can sort of intuit what to do next.

      The issue is still though that the player need to have some help in what the best course of action is. For instance, if the player enters a murder scene it is really hard to know what to check and how to behave. It is here that the goals discussed above come in handy. You can set it up like puzzle in order to put the player on the right track. Or you can just have the player walk to a specific location to find some important clue (the "walk this way"-approach).

      Plot setup alone will only work when the scene is very limited, as I describe in the "no explicit goals"-approach. As can be seen in very plot heavy games, the interactivity is reduced and very limited (Heavy Rain, etc).

    2. Thomas,

      I read your response, and now I understand what the issue is now. I was referring to story and not plot actually, so sorry for not making that clear. I'm a little surprised that players are confused and not able to dive right into exploration as much as you hoped. I was just assuming that the issue is was that you were possibly not being clear enough within your world, maybe not enough story.

      I'm not exactly sure what you're communicating in your universe, its all guesses when it comes down to what your game is going to be about. You didn't mention anything clear like that in your posts, so I couldn't tell EXACTLY what tactics and feelings you were using to engage the player. I said what I said because I was thinking, "give the player more of the story and less plot" because that was the kind of stuff you were saying earlier if I am correct, and give more of that to direct to the player to what he needs to do. I'm just saying to do it through a character or something similar to that degree, but at the same time, depending on the kind of experience your making it might weigh it down. In Amnesia you were all alone for the most part, I'm not sure if your going for that kind of experience again or not.

      You said you wanted to create a experience that relies as little on plot as possible in order to create, a strong sense You used the word "agency" in your posts, which doesn't make sense to me within the context that your using it, I mean it makes sense, if you want the player to feel he is in an agency. An agency is a group of people with common interests, like a business. I'm an American, so I'm sorry if I sound arrogant for trying to correct your English, but I'm guessing that's not quite the right word your looking for to describe what your doing? and if it is then I guess I am being foolish, lol.

      -Jesse P

    3. Agency = being in control of your own actions.

      Since we cannot have true agency in all situations, we want to strive for giving the sense of agency as much as possible. If your game is 100% plot, then the player does not have any agency because it becomes very apparent you are not in control of your actions.

      But that said, as mentioned in the blog post, some plot might be needed in order nudge the player in the right direction and maintain this sense of agency.

    4. I agree with what your saying, I just didn't understand you fully. Sorry making you waste time trying to correct me. :(

      Really sorry, please don't think I meant any disrespect trying to correct your English. Pretty foolish mistake on my part no matter how you look at it. I hope you understand.

      Though, you and me are both hoping for the same results in the end it seems! GOOD LUCK!

      -Jesse P

  10. I'm not sure if strictly speaking this falls into one or more of your existing categories, but how about a game where the goal is evasion?

    The premise would be that there is some form of unstoppable enemy hunting you, constantly, in an enclosed environment. If you are found and caught, you die. Evade the enemy for the required amount of time and you reach the next scene; the environment changes, the story progresses. Hiding, moving quietly and running like hell if spotted would form the core gameplay.

    To accompany this, items that assist the player in various ways, or even are essential for survival, could be hidden in the world in limited supply, so the player is further forced to stay on the move. Hiding places could only be used a small number of times before becoming ineffective. As time passes, the enemy could grow stronger, faster, or have keener senses, becoming ever a greater foe. Lastly, you could make certain hiding spots or escape routes accessible only by solving puzzles, although ensuring those puzzles are merely obstacles to the player's continued evasion and not goals in their own right would be essential.

    Come to think of it, much of the gameplay I've described can be experienced within Amnesia, but only in short bursts. In Amnesia, the goal is to descend in a linear direction towards Alexander by solving the puzzles, only running and hiding in cupboards sometimes along the way, stopping to look for items you need to advance. However, in the evasion game, the long term goal is to run and hide in the cupboards until the story moves forward, and solving puzzles and finding items within the current scene will help you run and hide more effectively.

    1. Evasion is not a bad idea for another type of category, but I think it would be quite tricky. The way the other approaches work is that there is some forward momenentum in them. Evasion is more of a passive goal. If your only goal is to hide, there is nothing really pushing you to get out of a hiding spot. So you would need to set the game in a more volatile environment, where there is no safe shelter and that evading is a force that pushes the player forward.

      Of course, you can see evading as a briefer and more local goal, but then I think it would be more of an activity than a goal.

    2. I suppose the main issue with evasion is the player may get frustrated with the lack of direction, and the penalty for being caught would be a very hard balance to strike; too lenient, and the entire objective of the game feels needless, too severe and the player will be forced to repeat the same methods of evasion over again, which could very quickly become a chore. It could be done well, but I think the options for story and gameplay are fairly limited in comparison to the others.

      I'm compelled to try and invent an effective new goal of some sort. We have violence, puzzles, 'walk this way', and stat management (I'm reminded of the phrase "spinning plates"). Evasion could be seen as a variant of 'walk this way', just trimmed down to 'walk'.

  11. Another category, that is sort of related to the RPG one mentioned above, that just popped up in my mind is stat management. This is basically how any sim game works. You need to make sure that the stats are a good levels, and there is always something happening which messes with them, giving the player a constant stream of goals.

    This can work well in a story environment. Survival games is a good example of this, where you need to manage water, food, etc. It could also be put in a horror game context where you need to make sure you sanity level is at a good level or something like that. I have not really seen a game that has been really story-centric using this approach (usually the focus is on the stats themselves more than a narrative).

    1. I thought cart life made an interesting weave of story and stat optimization largely because it follows meatspace work/life balance problems that we all struggle with
      Story and plot is pretty light but the narrative comes through in the interaction.

  12. I wrote an article kind of related to this.

    One of the main narrative "mechanics" of game design is combat- because combat is dumb and easy to create rather than human interaction. For human interaction you need to work on real substantial AI that understands the game world, so that you can create meaning through the player's interaction with those AIs who are now characters instead of NPC dummies.

    I think there's lots of things you can do with narrative when you move away from incredibly simple games. One of the things affecting the narrative in Skyrim for me is that, having installed a combat overhaul mod along with other mods ( I have completely changed how I approach the game.. monsters and groups of NPCs are threatening and I find it challenging to stay alive while also finding food and water.

    Those things, because they add "intelligence", move away from the more simple construct that Skyrim had become for me. Any modern game, really, like Resident Evil, devolves into something dumb eventually if you play it enough. (

    The true difference in narrative becoming more intelligent and therefore more dynamically interesting and sincere, is when you don't have an inherently SIMPLE game. That's my main concern with game design.. if you make it more complex, you won't *have* any of these issues with your design, because the player isn't even trapped in a box by bad design choices in the first place, because "intelligent rules" create something more human and less nonsensical when you get emergent gameplay from combining elements in the game.

    So a good example is Skyrim with mods for those other elements, which are like "plugins" for what is actually human nature being programmed into a game.. even in a very simple way. It's oversimplified, but when done even *a little* well, it creates new ways for the player to interact with the game world, without a designer[an inferior chosen storyline]'s influence but also with human meaning and sincerity.

    I want to start by creating rules for NPCs and factions of NPCs in response to certain events caused by the player or other factions. In an "open world" game that creates something meaningful. But eventually it needs to extend to simulating the minds of characters to make them truly responsive to the player. That can still be classed as solving puzzles, whether emotional/people problems or the player-character's human needs. But there's a lot of room there for innovation and creating better, richer games, basically.

    And, there's no excuse as to why games companies or game players can't work together in creating such systems of "generic AI products" which apply to all games and enrich them. Companies can only do so much because they're limited by the market/money system.. it's stupid and insane. A waste of time and resources, and a waste of potential for what games should already be.

    1. also- this is a GREAT lecture on interaction. Which is pretty damn important for game design! You can download it.

    2. Make sure you read "Chris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling". It goes through just what it takes to make a system like this. What this has told me is that doing something like this is just too complex. Even if you get it working perfectly (which Chris never really has), it will be even harder to make something good with it. This has lead me to instead pursue less complicated ways of doing it, using art and design instead of tech.

  13. Thomas, did you ever played a game called "The Moment of Silence"?

    1. Not played, looks like a normal adventure? Anything it does worth noticing? I just checked the gameplay video briefly and so nothing out of the ordinary, but impossible to judge from a brief glimpse.

  14. Erm, I'll try to compensate the off-topic I made above.
    I could be wrong, but I see the things like that. Actually because there isn't information about there new project, that is just speculation with only indirect evidence :
    Frictional are developing a new engine that supports outdoor environment (in a previous blog post, Thomas showed a grass field with grass blades that interacted with physical objects)
    The problem is that frictional games were entirely indoor, and that is where puzzles shine best. In an indoor environment you can relatively easy push the player to progress along the certain direction and according to a certain story. Actually the more restriction to the user is made - the better for the plot and story. Examples for this are the third-person, mouse-driven, 2D games like Syberia, Moment of Silence and even BigFish casual games. Contrary to any understanding these game are kind of immersive and engaging.
    In an open environment however, where the player can walk freely for miles and hours to reach something interesting it's just boring. The player should be engaged with the game in all of the time. If they get boring for a moment, there is a big chance they just close the game and never open it again.
    So the question is : how to make an engaging and interesting game in an open environment without exploiting combat. What kind of puzzels there could be ?
    Post links to open environment games like Miasmata, that implement rather unusual gameplay. Posting links to indoor games like Amnesia and Penumbra isn't going to help Frictional much :)

    1. Just because we doing outdoors does not mean we are making Skyrim ;)

  15. That's a very accurate assessment of the limitation of current interactive fiction. Without excessive exposition, and within the limitations of input devices on gaming systems, there is very little else that can be done. You've also hit upon the solution for evolution, if only slight, and that is in combining approaches in new creative ways. For example, a "explore until you find something" approach could be combined with multiple "walk this way" approaches. Gamers know the language of gaming enough now that we can follow multiple storylines at once. The GTA games ALMOST do this, but inelegantly. I think the ultimate goal in a gaming experience is this: we as the gamer, believe that WE are creating the story, when in fact we are being cleverly led down one or one of several different predetermined paths. With correct planning and slight of hand, this is entirely possible. Magicians have been doing this for centuries. You are the new magicians.

    Good luck on your new game, I'm very excited about it.

  16. Skyrim is a mainstream RPG made for international success. But not really an unique "masterpiece" like Gothic. The Gothic series did a great job in all kinds of high-level gamedesign.

    The good old Gothic is still the best of all open world RPGs in high-level story telling and gameplay mechanics etc. It's not an action blockbuster like Skyrim, Gothic is made for a special niche of people, like Penumbra was in the horror genre. To compare Penumbra to Doom is like to compare Gothic to Skyrim.

    In 1997 a few students started with a great idea of a new era of RPG genre and they decided to make a game "Gothic". The release was 2001.

    Here's a video to show a quest in the old mine.

    I would recommend Thomas to play this game, when he talks about Skyrim.

  17. Thomas ( and other Frictional people ), do you think that the adventure genre is getting overcrowd by small indie companies that seems to appear on a daily basis. If you look in game distributing systems like Steam and others, you will eventually notice that there are lots of new games coming to fight for users attention. Some of them even look good, partly because they use third party engines like Unity, or simply are mods based on HL2 Source engine, UDK etc. Some of them even use their own engines and technology and still manage to look great.
    I'm trying to say that I think the competition in the sector is getting bigger, users are getting pickier , exacting and hard to please. They times when Penumbra was released was different than now. You guys have a name in the industry, and you have commercial success, but are you afraid that you can invest too much money and effort in a game that could possibly fail and the sales could be modest... Don't get me wrong, I'm sure your game will be great, but it seems lots of game coming out in the genre appear to interesting too. Or do you think that other nice horror games actually help growing a community of people that like such games and such a think is beneficial for you as well, because if someone is interested in a particular genre they will buy all of the games from that genre, no matter what. :)

    1. I do not see the adventure genre being overcrowded at all and there could be far more diversity than what we have now. Most of what comes out in terms of adventure games follow the tradition of classical adventure games. There area really very few unique adventure type of games coming out that do thing differently.

      But in any case, I think more games is only healthy. Right now I think a lot of people lose interest in the video games, because there is just not enough titles that make them interested. If these people were provided with more regular releases of interesting games, then they would be more interested and the consumer basis would grow.

  18. @Thomas (off-topic / potential bug in the engine):
    Just wanted to let you know that me and another forum user stumbled upon a potential bug, related to problems arising from the fact that GetGlobalVarString() engine function returns a string&, rather than string@.

    More detail here (that post and the later ones):

    It doesn't really pose a big problem for Amnesia, but with the new engine on the way, with OO scripting and all, if the legacy code is inherited, there could be problems later on.
    So it might be of interest for the current and future projects.

    1. Thanks for the answer, but I think you misunderstood the nature of the problem:
      "I think the problem is simply that the return value could be const string&, otherwise it is possible to change the value and you get all kinds of strange stuff."

      Exactly - 'all kinds of stuff' happening is exactly how things are now, in the shipped game - it works a few times (value gets changed through a ref - so it can't be const), but then the memory gets corrupt or something. That's what I'm trying to warn you about.

      (slightly expanded reply back on the forum thread)

  19. How would games designed for virtual reality in the horror genre effect goal setting?

    Does your studio have any interest in the oculus rift virtual reality headset, including supporting amnesia titles like 'the dark descent'?

  20. About approaches to creating low level goals:
    I like to think about it the other way around - not so much about what approach the goals should be based around, but rather what approaches are a good tool to be used to communicate the story and formulate a narrative for a specific part of the game. This way, you know what kind of high-level, emotional, immersive experience you want to use as a frame for a particular section of the game, and then work out the details from there in order to express them - which means that you can use different approaches in different parts of the game (spatially and/or temporally).

    Goals are there keep the player going, and focused, but they don't necessarily flesh out the experience. It's other things that do this, and they don't have to be directly related to the goals either. What I'm talking about are the more ephemeral things like environmental ques, the current beat in the story, the gameplay itself, even music. You know, like, when you find traces of former normal life in a postapocalyptic setting, when you are faced with horror and death and you hear birds singing outside, life going on without you as if nothing happened, when the action stops, and you have time to take a closer look of the environment, and reflect about what you find, when you enter a save room in Resident Evil 3, and hear that heartbreaking music, which, as a beautiful contrast to what you had before, really highlights the tragedy of the situation. That kind of stuff.

    1. But, of course, you have to establish a balance when using these various approaches - you don't want to use one set of mechanics for one part of the game, and then throw them away and replace them later on with something different that the Player has to learn all over again.

  21. I would like to discuss goals setting in several classic FPP games: Doom, Heretic and Hexen.

    I remember the joy of having blasted all the hellish monsters in Doom, Doom 2 and Doom Ultimate. Even though the games were quite satisfactory to play, however for me they were a little bit too "futuristic". The goal was to survive but the traps and puzzles were just right for the gameplay to be not too complicated. Let me say it had a 1.0 ratio of goal setting. Story was almost non-existing. Player just had a range of firing weapons, and HUD displaying health and armor level. Things to remember: bosses (like Cyber-Spider), the music and sound of demons screaming when they died. Oh, and the picture of decapitated head of a bunny with background view of city on fire - upon completion of a part of the game.

    Compared with them the Heretic game was similar, but the environment and situation was substantially different. Now instead of cyberpunk monsters I were faced with flying gargoyles, undead warriors, maulotaurs and the like. Goals were similar to Doom games, but the setting was more RPG-like, or medieval-like. Perfect for the time, with 1.2 ratio of goal setting and HUD still displayed. Story was a little bit more present (fight army of D'Sparil the sorcerer), but also almost non-existing - I mean it did not disturb the player nor made me think about it too much (as to ask myself "why it is the way it is?"). Weapons changed to be more RPG-like, which was a very nice touch. Things to remember: medieval style, undead warriors, and gargoyles' screeching and croaking.

    And finally the Hexen. Again the medieval-like setting, which I always find a plus. For start the player had almost nothing and had to fight two-headed monsters with bare hands. For a long time there was no long-range firing weapons to possess. Glass in windows could be shattered into pieces (nothing fancy today, but a very nice touch at the time). Background music was almost inaudible, but the ambient sounds were excellent. Combined with visuals and colors of the environment they built a perfect, recognizable experience of the places: castle, dungeons, swamps. HUD was hidden for most of time, which immersed the player even more. Goal setting had 2.0 ratio, because I really had to search for the right place to pull some lever or drag a dangling weight on the rope. Sometimes progress was made after killing a specific monster. Some puzzles even required travelling between distant worlds (using portals) and visiting lots of different environments along the way - however typically just for "switching some switch" there. Story was a little complicated than in Heretic, with striking feeling after seeing the final screen, where the player's and the boss' figures were "played" on some chessboard by unknown sorcerer-like creature. Things to remember: ambient sounds of swamp environment, swap fog, smart multi-level puzzles, initial helplessness against monsters.

    The Hexen experience was unique to me at the time, reflected later in Gothic series. But the Hexen's ambient sounds... I really like constant tweeting, screeching, sound of wind in the trees or water splashing along the way. In Amnesia the player was deprived of these sounds, because the game was played inside a very strange castle. As a nice, relieving touch there were lights coming out of otherwise scarce windows, holes in the ceiling with water coming out of them. I remember that after finishing the first water part all of the sudden I was invited with calm music, and I hunted a bit for new goals (like fixing the elevator). But I always expected the worst, and even that simple act of finding new goals was stifled by fear. Like it should be in a good horror.

    To sum up: since you work on a new open-space FPP game, remember to surround player with delicate ambient sounds. No sounds increase the tension and it easily could be used to improve the experience. Dull and dusty places also depress the player, so mix some beatiful ones as well.

  22. Gothic series is amazing, still the best of all RPGs in history.
    There's also "Risen" the new game of the Gothic developers, used same game mechanics and high level story telling.

    Risen & Gothic are not designed to be a superhero, it's not like other RPGs, instead you are just a normal nameless guy like in all Frictional titles! There are no "monsters" placed as killing-objects, there are no hack n slay elements, there are no boss fights, there are no action scenes, etc. Such games are a niche of the genre and understand about high level gamedesign. Gothic is still the best, no other RPG has such an immersion and atmosphere. Except the Risen series, there's only The Witcher series to be almost similar to that experience.

    Gothic is the best of RPGs, like Penumbra & Amnesia are the best of horrors. But I'm actually playing the Silent Hill series and now I understand: Silent Hill is even scarier than Amnesia.

    But Amnesia is better in immersion and gameplay, so it's still the best horror game in my opinion, but not the scariest.

    The sounds and environments in Silent Hill are even scarier and enormous disturbing. Story telling is also on high-level!!!

    You are not completely defenseless like in Amnesia, but that doesn't kill the horror. I more think, Amnesia did some wrong in gameplay mechanics. For example when a monster is spawned, you are hiding and when you listen to the music, you will hear when the monster is removed by the game for ever. In Silent Hill the monsters never get removed, so i think there is no sense when you are defenseless and the monsters are removed after one minute of waiting.

    Then I prefer the mechanics of Penumbra Overture, where monsters doesn't disappear. But it's not only about the monsters. Silent Hill doesn't have the scariest monsters at all, I think Frictional'
    s monster designs are better, but the Silent Hill series are more disturbing in its setting and atmosphere. Amnesia is a bit sissy compared to that and most of gameplay is forced to be easy.

    I finished Silent Hill 2 and are now playing Silent Hill 3, I'll also play the first Silent Hill game when I finished SH3.
    The only bad thing in Silent Hill is the camera orbit and controls, you need much time to become familiar with the controls and that is a bit frustrating when the camera is in wrong position etc.

    But when we talk about horror, fear and high level story telling, the Silent Hill series is one of the best and scariest of all time, and the Gothic & Risen series is the best of all RPGs ever made.

    Thomas, I'm interested to know if you ever played some of this games and if yes, which titles exactly?

    And was Penumbra a bit inspired by Silent Hill?

  23. When is AAMFP coming :7 I wan't to shit bricks.

    1. When its ready, lol. You'll know when its time.

  24. I really doubt that AMFP will be scarier than the Silent Hill franchise. But we will see. Well, Amnesia has better gameplay mechanics and interaction that means more immersion etc. but it's by far not disturbing like the Silent Hill series.

    I want to have a game like Silent Hill as next, but with Frictional's gameplay and interaction.

    Let's be patient what Frictional Games is doing as next...

    1. Its really a matter of opinion what's scarier. Amnesia had a different premise then what silent hill had. The themes in the game were not anything like silent hill to be honest. The games story telling methods are also very different. The player/protagonist connection/perspective are also not the same style.

      The game play style isn't really that similar to silent hill, really. In the end its all perspective, there isn't really a superior game.

      Also, this blog is not for AAMFP. Frictional is only producing AAMFP. Meaning that they are only watching the project and making sure certain things are in place, but the creation/development process is being handled by TheChineseRoom.

      This blog is currently focused on the creation of frictional games Super secret game THAT IS made by them and only them. So, no AAMFP here. You got to follow Dan pinchbeck for news on AAMFP, because its basically his game.

    2. I know that. But AMFP is not completely in other hands, Frictional Games is surely involved in development too and looks what could be changed to meet their expectations.

      What I wanted to say is, that Silent Hill is more disturbing at horror while Amnesia is more melancholic and less "game-like", what is also very good for that. But when I have to choose the scarier game, I would say it it Silent Hill. Well, Amensia is better at all, but not scarier.

    3. Actually, Amnesia A Machine for Pigs is really only being created by the Chinese room, hes not wrong. When your a producer or a publisher your never hands on, you just pay for the whole project. Frictional is only a small team that consists of I think... 11 people? There is no way they could make two games at once, that would require, WAY to much work. There is an article where Thomas Grip himself said that they are not working on Amnesia 2 at all. He said its not his game, its their game. Frictional just gives them feed back, the money to make it, and that's it. If you don't believe it look it up. The only thing frictional has actually gotten hands on with in Amnesia 2 is the engine tech hiccups that come along every so often. The story, game play, level design, and everything else is made by the chinese room people.

  25. Just a quick brainstorm:

    I study psychology and a reasonably supported theory is that the goals people set for themselves (in real life) are based on the interaction and strength of (roughly) three basic "motives" that people tend to not be consciously aware of.

    Those three are:

    achievement motive
    power motive
    affiliation motive

    Most real goal humans pursue will be connected to one or more of these three "motives".

    The first one corresponds well with the "challenge" mindset of a puzzle game, the power motive is probably best served by showing the player that his actions have big impacts (on the environment and also on other characters) - but the affiliation motive (affiliating with other creatures and grooming social relationships) is very much overlooked in game design, probably because it's hard to pull off for a game to make the player genuinely care for a NPC - it requires great and convincing acting and seemingly meaningful interactions (Hint: Clementine).

    That's why I'm really excited about the new Bioshock, the chick seems like a really likable, deep, convincing NPC.

    So how can you spin a big story out of many smaller moment-to-moment goals? Create a convincing NPC that accompanies him, explains or sets the goals if they aren't obvious, reacts reasonably to the players' actions and guides him with "innocent" tips if he gets lost etc.

    So an alternative to letting the player figure out on his own if puzzle-solving or violence is required is to have a cool companion tell him what should be done. Not in a bossy way but more as a suggestion or hint. Since games practically exist of environments and characters inhibiting them, interacting with the environment to reach a goal automatically screams "puzzle", while the cheapest way to interact with lots of characters in order to reach a goal is "violence", because it uses few or no lines of dialogue.

    So I think it's still mostly going to be "puzzle" or "violence" (or stealth mixed in, which is essentially skillfully navigating environment and NPCs) maybe mixed with some "dialogue to convince NPCs of XY".

    But if the problem is how to present those goals to the player, then I think making him want to please a NPC for the sake of a "fictional" relationship is a good way to do it.

  26. I'm pleasantly surprised by the number of people talking about Gothic in this comments section, I'm about to write something about it too!
    Though as most people have been writing the same thing I was planning to write, I'm instead wondering what Thomas' would think about it.
    Thomas, if you ever find yourself playing Gothic and not shying away from the non-standard control scheme, please also find yourself writing something about it :P

  27. Mirror's Edge harries the player along a single path while making the world seem open to exploration. It's a platformer with mostly optional combat, although towards the end there are a few scenes where the player is forced to fight:

    In chapter 7:
    The player sneaks on to a truck which takes him onto a boat. When arriving, the first room, the player must get past several armed guards, climb on to the top of a truck, grab a pipe, and climb up on to the rafters. If the guards aren't disabled then while climbing the pipe they will shoot the player in the back and kill him.

    The player must fight and disable an armed opponent twice.

    In chapter 8, after disabling the prison transport by shooting the engine with a sniper rifle the player must get down to the ground and reach the transport. On the way to the ground floor the player must pass by several enemies, the last of which are next to the exit doors. It may be impossible to get by those last ones and reach the door alive without disabling them.

    In chapter 9:
    The player must get across a large room filled with armed opponents and reach the elevators on the other end, which are guarded by a guy with a machine gun. It may be impossible to press the elevator button without him shooting the player in the back and killing him.

    In the server bank room the player must get past a man with a machine gun that's standing in the middle of a narrow path. It may be impossible without disabling him.

    The player must hop from rooftop to rooftop to reach the end of the game scene. On the third one there are 3 snipers. The player must walk slowly across a pipe in order to get past an electric fence, something which may be impossible if one of the snipers hasn't been taken out first.

    That's pretty much it. Up until the last 3 chapters violence is not only optional but even undesirable, as it slows the player down and gains him nothing.

    The game has a great atmosphere that instills a feeling of desolation in a way that probably wouldn't work quite as well in a passive medium and has a good story that matches the game. The only 2 weaknesses are the use of cartoons for 3rd person cutscenes, which breaks consistency and immersion, and that the story is somehow too "cold" so the player doesn't form any particular emotional ties with them and limits emotional impact.

    In my opinion, out of all the games I've played it's the closest to being ideal.

    Games like Aquaria and Waking Mars are IMO good examples of where leaving the player to aimlessly explore is a bad idea. In Aquaria levels were so large and repetitive that even though I liked it in principal I found it too boring and quit playing it. In Waking Mars I found it to be relaxing, but the levels were a little too big so I found it disorienting, especially since I couldn't pop open a map of the level and see where I was. Only a world map was available. I think I got pretty far in that game and that I'll end up finishing it, but I do think it should be more compact, as relaxation sometimes turns to boredom.


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